Remember Nivar?

Lydia and Nivar.

There are people in my life whom I haven’t seen in months and probably won’t see but once a year. When we meet again, we’ll spend most of our time discussing what’s happened since the last time we talked, trading stories and catching up on all the details. But when it comes to this particular Kurdish girl, it’s all different.

As an intern last summer I connected deeply with 8-year-old Nivar. Her sweet personality won all of us over, and her striking eyes captivated many of you. Her case was urgent and her parents’ money tight, but after a few pictures and stories, the donations poured in. You made it possible for Nivar to get surgery in Turkey last July.

I went with her, and I spent most of my free time in her room playing hand-clap games and learning the Kurdish names for colors. Without any language we became fast friends. I was there during her operation, and the photo below is the last I saw of her before leaving Istanbul for America. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.

Nivar in ICU.

But this morning, after 10 months, I got to see Nivar again. I was both nervous and excited. I couldn’t remember any of my Kurdish colors, the names of animals, or the rhyme we’d used in our hand-clapping games. We were greeted at the door and ushered into the house by Nivar’s parents. Just then, Nivar came running in from a back room, healthier than I’ve ever seen her. She seemed shy at first, very quiet and polite. After a few minutes I went out to the car for something and Nivar followed me. She threw her arms around my neck and kissed my cheeks, then started laughing and speaking Kurdish.

Not understanding a word, I quickly grabbed what I needed and let her pull me by the hand back into the house where she led me past all of the grown ups and into her room. First thing? Hand clapping games. We played with her doll, a toy piano keyboard and a story book written in English.

When her dad came in to call us to lunch she spoke hurriedly to him in Kurdish. He laughed and pointed at Nivar, then at me, and said carefully, “I love you”. My heart smiled. I remembered in the hospital in Turkey when Nivar had sent the same message through her (non-English speaking) father to me the morning of her heart surgery.

After lunch Nivar brought out her parent’s point-and-shoot to take pictures of me, her favorite way to tease me for the millions of pictures I’ve taken of her. It was so great to watch this little girl run around the room laughing; its hard to believe its the very same girl who could hardly catch her breath the last time I saw her.

As we got ready to leave, Nivar smiled and said something shyly to one of the Kurdish-speaking PLC staff. “She wants you to be her sister,” they translated.

My friendship with Nivar ranks high on my list of PLC Summer 2010 memories. Watching her grow more and more sick as her surgery approached, then actually standing at the foot of her operating table while doctors worked to correct her heart condition created an unforgettable bond between me and this little girl. Ten months later, I’m ready to start another summer of memories with Nivar and others like her.